OCC recommends prison rule changes

The head of the Cayman Islands Corrections and Rehabilitation system said last week he intends to implement most of the changes recommended in a recent independent report which raises questions about prisoners’ civil rights.

The report from the Office of the Complaints Commissioner made public last week said certain rules that determine discipline for prisoners could potentially lead to intimidation, or inmates being punished for any action they take.

One of Complaints Commissioner John Epp’s 12 recommendations said certain rules, which make it an offence to repeatedly make groundless complaints or in any way offend against good order and discipline, should be deleted.

The report also points out that the officer who oversees disciplinary hearings for prisoners is appointed by the prison director. Mr. Epp said all punishments which involve revoking inmates’ time off for good behavior should be stopped until the question of independence of the enquirer is resolved.

‘It’s possible for a prison official to (preside over a prisoner’s hearing), if there’s other safeguards in place,’ said Mr. Epp. ‘In other jurisdictions, an independent member of the public, perhaps a lawyer, would hear the case.’

The man appointed in August to the new post of Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Bill Rattray, said that was a topic of considerable debate.

Mr. Rattray said he does intend to eliminate the rules which allow prisoners to be punished for making groundless complaints or in any way offending against good order and discipline. He noted those changes will need ratification by the Legislative Assembly before taking effect.

‘I’m totally in accord with (Mr. Epp’s) recommendations,’ said Mr. Rattray. ‘These changes were going to be made anyway.’

Mr. Epp said his office had received a ‘handful’ of complaints from prisoners who said their disciplinary hearings were unfair. He said some revolved around prisoners not being able to call witnesses in their own defence at the hearings.

‘It’s the concept of a fair trial,’ said Mr. Epp. ‘Sometimes that means you’ve got to have a witness to come over to the prison, and if the prison doesn’t help you get them there, you can’t go get them.’

‘Whether or not due process was followed is something I can’t answer at the moment,’ Mr. Rattray said.

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